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Push to reopen outdoor spaces at Portland Public Schools gets boost from PE teacher, petition

Playgrounds and playing fields have been shut down to the public because of COVID-19. But some feel it's time to give people space outdoors.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Fields and playgrounds at Portland Public Schools have been closed because of COVID-19. But there's a push to reopen them.

Portland Parks and Recreation reopened outdoor spaces in September but PPS did not follow suit. Now a Change.Org petition is asking people to sign off on opening up the outdoor parts of school campuses.

PE teacher Sam Balto is the man behind the petition. He’s' holding class indoors, but he thinks PPS should encourage outdoor activity.

“We should be opening up more spaces for students and families and Portland residents to be able to get physical activity but also physically distance while doing it,” said Balto.

At Clinton Park near Franklin High School, we found some young kids out, and parents who agreed in large part with the PE teacher.

“I think following the guidelines is important, but do agree that it's important to get them open, eventually as long as it's safe to do. We all want what's best for our kids,” said Jenna Tittelfitz.

Portland Public Schools may be getting closer to opening up the outdoor parts of campus. The district released this statement to KGW on Thursday:

"Since Portland Parks & Rec opened up, we have been considering opening up PPS grounds as well. With the governor's two-week pause to help stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Oregon, and the current rising COVID cases, we've decided to wait for a couple of weeks to make the grounds decision. Our focus is on serving our students and doing everything we can to help reduce the spread of COVID in our community."

At some school properties, the closed signs and yellow tape that were up are no longer there, and people are on campus anyway.

The mom of a one-and-half-year-old girl said because of COVID, her daughter hasn't been able to socialize much yet in life, and getting out to play helps.

“I feel like as parks have started to open, we've had more opportunities to socialize here and I think it's really important for her development to be around other children because otherwise, she doesn't have that.”

Balto said he's not criticizing the district he works for. But he hopes that after the two-week pause, PPS gives people some space, and chance to reconnect safely outdoors.

“Our community miss each other and just being able to walk the grounds is a great way to feel connected while we are distant,” said Balto.

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